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New Orleans Charter Schools Are Better, Not Perfect

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Gone is the traditional central district office that assigns students to schools, hires and promotes teachers in negotiation with a union, and controls everything from budgets to textbooks.

by Bob Adelmann at the New American

Before Hurricane Katrina damaged or destroyed more than 100 of New Orleans’ 128 public schools in August 2005, Cohen College Prep (CCP) was one of the worst-performing schools in the city, with very few students graduating and fewer still being accepted into college. In the aftermath CCP was turned into a charter school, and now almost 100 percent of its students not only graduate but are accepted into college.

Results like this, appearing all across New Orleans’ charter schools, are leading many to conclude that this is Katrina’s “silver lining.”

Prior to Katrina,123 of those 128 schools were operated by Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), with decidedly dismal results. Only 12 of those schools showed “reasonably good performance,” according to researchers. Katrina overwhelmed the OPSB, forcing them to announce the indefinite closure of all schools in the city. In November 2005, the Louisiana legislature passed laws transferring 102 of the city’s worst-performing schools to the Recovery School District, which had been created in 2003 to take over the very worst of the worst of the failing schools. Five of them had already been transferred before Katrina hit.

Under the direction of Paul Vallas, the Recovery School District was on its way to becoming the first “all-charter” school district in the United States. By eliminating teachers unions and the traditional educational bureaucracy, while giving each school’s administration the power to hire and fire teachers, set education parameters, and establish disciplinary standards, and allowing parents to choose among various schools, their students began to learn.

And their test scores began to reflect that learning. Improvements were noted as early as October 2009 when an all-school performance score showed a 24-percent improvement from 2004.

As the Christian Science Monitor noted in March 2014:

Gone is the traditional central district office that assigns students to schools, hires and promotes teachers in negotiation with a union, and controls everything from budgets to textbooks.

Instead, families here choose among charter schools citywide that — in exchange for their autonomy — have to meet certain benchmarks in order to have their charters renewed.

Test scores and graduation rates have climbed steadily.

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